Courting Democrats, Republican Phil Scott Airs a Familiar Ad | Off Message

Courting Democrats, Republican Phil Scott Airs a Familiar Ad


Stop me if this sounds familiar: Vermont's Republican gubernatorial nominee released a new television advertisement Thursday featuring prominent Democrats singing his praises.

Nope, it wasn't Jim Douglas, who won four races for governor from 2002 through 2008: 

And it wasn't Brian Dubie, who lost the 2010 gubernatorial contest:

It was Lt. Gov. Phil Scott — the latest in a long line of Vermont Republicans who've sought statewide office in an increasingly Democratic state:

If that third guy in Scott's latest ad looks familiar, it's because you've seen him before — in the first ad: It's Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation president Frank Cioffi, who happened to belong to "Democrats for Douglas," "Democrats for Dubie" and now "Democrats for Scott." (Not nearly enough alliteration in the latest version, if you ask me.)

"I come from a working class, blue-collar family — Irish and Italian immigrants. We always voted Democratic," Cioffi explains. "Always."

But the economic development professional, who worked in Democratic former governor Howard Dean's administration, says his party is no longer what it was when he was growing up: "fiscally conservative and socially liberal."

  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Frank Cioffi
"I'm kind of a Democrat like Dick Mazza," he says, referring to the Democratic senator from Colchester who also supports Scott and appears in the new ad. "Blue dogs, I guess you would say."

While Scott's ad may not be groundbreaking, it does make intuitive sense. According to Gallup, a greater portion of Vermont's electorate identifies as Democratic or Democratic-leaning than any other state: 52 percent, compared with 30 percent who say they're Republican or Republican-leaning. 

And Scott has made at least some inroads with Democrats. According to a new Castleton Polling Institute survey commissioned by Vermont Public Radio, 14 percent of Democratic-leaning voters support Scott, while only 4 percent of Republican-leaning voters back Democratic gubernatorial nominee Sue Minter. More importantly, independents favor Scott over Minter 54 to 12 percent, according to the poll. 

Both candidates have room to grow. Some 13 percent of Democrats said they were undecided, while 24 percent of independents did. (The poll's overall margin of error was plus or minus 3.9 percent, but it was higher for subcategories, such as preference by party.)

Cioffi is just the kind of ticket-splitter both candidates are trying to court. He says he will "always" support such Democrats as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) — and voted in the state Democratic primary this August for Minter and House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown), who unsuccessfully sought his party's nomination for lieutenant governor.

"I wouldn't vote for Donald Trump in a thousand years," he says, referring to the Republican presidential nominee. "It's an abomination."

But Cioffi says Scott shares his priorities precisely: lower taxes, greater government efficiency and shorter legislative sessions. 

As for those who will criticize him for belonging to yet another "Democrats for" group?

"I really don't care," Cioffi says. "I've pounded doors and given out fliers and have probably done more footwork for the Democratic Party than the people who are calling themselves Democrats now."

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